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Appropriation or Representation: Who owns the Exclusive Designer Collections? 

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Delhi South chapter.

  ‘Dior’s landmark Mumbai show signals India’s growing luxury status

– Exclusive headline from CNN Style 

Earlier similar headlines took over the media when luxury brand Dior visited India as a part of their Pre-Fall Show 2023. It was widely believed that the Dior Fall 2023 exhibition in Mumbai’s Gateway of India and the recent opening of the Nita Mukesh Ambani Cultural Centre marked India’s “arrival” in the world of fashion. Magazines like Vogue made efforts to portray the brand’s ‘inclusive’ endeavor with several creative headlines like Christian Dior’s Mumbai Show Spotlights the Extraordinary Craftsmanship of India’s Artisans’.  However one wonders the faces and representation of the artisans. With pictures of Gigi Hadid ‘giving major paro vibes from Devdas’, Tom Holland in suit, Zendaya in Saree, Nick Jonas and Priyanka Chopra posing  for aesthetics in Mumbai auto, social media was swamped with their news and a pride creeping in how the French brand ‘recognised’ Indian Craftsmanship. But who will write about the unnamed laborers who have worked under exploitative working conditions so that they were able to realize their elegant runway. 

Luxury has developed into an industry over the past twenty years that includes corporate giants, incredibly intricate management procedures, stringent financial policies, and a complex business plan.  Thus, in order to maintain the perception of exclusivity and rarity, luxury companies engage in practices that are similar to those seen in the mass market, such as high launch and advertising costs, an increasing number of new products, shorter product lifespans, and the need for immediate financial results. In addition, luxury brands also often highlight the traditional techniques and methods that their artisans use, which have been passed down from generation to generation. This creates a sense of heritage and authenticity that further enhances the luxury brand’s appeal.    

While brands claim to share the due credits to the artisans and recognise their skills, however, fast fashion turns this token appreciation into appropriation.  The luxury brands usually employ thousands of workers from developing nations, who work under harsh working conditions with no employment benefits or protections. There are even several growing fashion sites that employ poor workers from the outskirts, often from marginalized communities within the country to work for them. Instagram is now a hub for developing businesses, but little or no information is available about the people who produce the item. A couple of days ago I landed up on one such fashion and lifestyle page, based in Mumbai that sells handloom sarees. The sarees started out at prices around 15 thousand rupess and onwards. However, with regards to their thriving business all over India, they very conveniently leave out the lives and working conditions of the workers, mainly dominated by female textile workers, working a six yard of fabric that is handwoven in a small district of West Bengal like Nadia. They remain unnamed and unidentified. The workers are alienated from the products that they produce while they are paid below the minimum wage in exchange of their labor power. The profits and capital accumulated by the owners are monopolized while the laborers are unadorned. 

Eliminating the exploitation of artisan textiles requires effort and a dedication to establishing moral supply chains rather than making money off of the labor of others. Brands need to concentrate on the distinctive narratives of historical fabrics and openly share these narratives with consumers. 

Adrija Ganguly

Delhi South '23

Adrija is a third year student, pursuing Sociology from Jesus and Mary College. While most of the time she is found listening to music and obsessing over Ali Sethi, sometimes she writes to rant and rave about the society.